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What is the role of HR?

Five key benefits of getting some HR input into your SME.

The role of HR

Staff welfare, personnel, human resources, people team, organisational development.  We use so many terms for those individuals that an organisation engages specifically to handle the ‘people’ aspects of running its operational activity.  It’s no wonder, then, that many business owners and managers don’t really know what it is or whether they need it.  For ease of reference I am going to use the term HR, although it’s not my favourite!


Since working as a freelance HR consultant I have had to challenge myself to articulate more clearly the benefits I could bring to businesses that invest in hiring some of my time.  I understand why HR is seen as an overhead by some, but it can be so much more than that.  Getting some HR input into running your business can save you time and money.  I would say that, wouldn’t I?  So, let’s explore just five possible answers to the question: why do I need HR?

  1. Get employment administration right

If it’s administration, why do you need an HR person?  Can’t you just give that to your P.A.?  You can if you wish.  However, even with activities such as job offers, contracts, absence recording and holiday requests, there are pitfalls.  Understanding the legal basis of these seemingly simple tasks could avoid getting you into hot water.  Did you know, for example, that once a job has been offered and accepted (even verbally) an employment contract exists?  If you change your mind, there is an obligation on you to end the contract legally.  If you do give HR tasks to a general administrator, it is advisable to provide them with access to an experienced HR professional who can provide some mentoring and telephone support when something potentially risky crops up or drop in to lend a hand with a difficult meeting.

  1. Policies and processes that helpmanagers manage

You may have an employee handbook or set of policies that have been bought ‘off-the-shelf’ or downloaded as part of an industry body membership.  However, are they a good fit for your unique circumstances? An HR professional can help tailor handbooks and policies to your company, supporting the messages you want to convey to your staff, helping you manage rather than being a rule book that nobody looks at.  HR can also advise you when you need to deviate from or change a company policy. Robust processes help managers manage fairly and consistently, preventing conflict and grievances.  HR can help managers on a step-by-step basis. HR has a unique overview of what constitutes normal company practice and should know the precedent and case-law.  They will have their finger on the pulse so all of your employment practices keep pace with the constantly changing legal landscape.  Most busy managers do not want to prioritise time for researching the law.

  1. Advice when things go wrong (or before they go wrong!)

The more people you employ, the more likely it is there will be some kind of issue or conflict to resolve.  Life is full of ups and downs and these will inevitably impact on productivity and performance at work from time-to-time.  HR can be your eyes and ears and spot issues before they escalate.  Managers can use HR as a confidential sounding board and get some practical advice to ‘nip it in the bud’.  Early intervention will help your staff to focus and contribute close to their best, even if they are going through a rough patch.  In the face of a serious ‘people problem’, HR can assess the risks of your proposed action and liaise with solicitors if it should become necessary.  An expensive legal advisor does not need to be your first port of call with HR on board.

  1. Creating a positive, motivating work environment

HR will not achieve a positive culture on their own, but they will have the head-space to think about it when a busy owner or line-manager may struggle.  An individual’s employment experience is shaped by many things, large and small; the physical space and facilities, reward and recognition, flexible working options, appraisals, training or how company decisions are made.  Research shows that the number one factor when it comes to job satisfaction is the relationship individuals have with their line manager.  HR can help managers develop the skills and confidence to motivate and engage the workforce.  It’s not about changing a manager’s own style or personality or telling them how to do their job.  However, most HR professionals can help with the development of leadership behaviours that are known to enhance positive working relationships. 

  1. Helping you plan and realise business growth

It’s true, not all businesses need an HR department, or even a stand-alone HR manager or advisor.  However, engaging some consultancy support at an early stage in your company’s growth will help you plan your future workforce and avoid some costly mistakes. In times of growth, how do you keep control of the way your valued staff are looked after when you introduce extra layers of management?  How costly would it be if your star employees left because the culture had changed from small family firm to something they don’t feel connected with anymore?  HR can plan how to recruit and retain talented individuals and proactively build a positive workplace.  A senior HR professional can develop and implement a company HR strategy for you rather than hoping for the best as you embark on your journey of growth.  Business leaders can then focus more of their time on pursuing exciting new goals and sales.

The role of HR

So, do you need HR?  Hopefully I have given you some food for thought.  HR input for your business doesn’t have to be a full-time HR Manager or even an employee at all.  There are consultants who can work with you on a ‘retained’ basis for as many or as few hours as you need (e.g. from 2 days per week to one day per month).  Make sure you build a long-term relationship with whomever you engage.  Any consultant worth their salt will spend time getting to know your business and understanding the context so the advice you are paying for is spot on and saves you time and money. 

If you are still not sure if HR is for you, book a free one-hour discussion with me to identify the people-related risks and opportunities in your business.  I can also coach or mentor your in-house HR function, your Office Manager or whoever you entrust with your HR activities (the first hour is free for getting-to-know-you).

Whichever choice you make about HR, take some time to develop a considered approach to getting the very best from your people and they will pay you back many times over by helping your business flourish. 

About the blogger: Lisa Hornik, MCIPD, is the senior HR consultant at Marches Business Consulting.  Contact her to identify the right HR approach for your SME.

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